Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ultimate Awesome Wedding Advice Post, Four Years in the Making

Two years ago, I wrote a week's worth of posts giving what I thought to be sage wedding advice, to commemorate my wife's and my second wedding anniversary. Yet another wonderful year with my beautiful wife has come and gone - kind of hard to believe that we now have a baby, for whom we were anxiously waiting at this time last year!

Anyway, I thought I'd revisit my wedding advice and update the post with new observations and ideas. So, here's an entire week's worth of wedding advice, combined into one post, to make it easy for friends and family members to share, email, etc. the advice with/to future brides and grooms. Feel free to share your thoughts, disagreements, or wedding tips in the comments!

The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week Table of Contents:

1. The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Three Years in the Making

2. THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

3. Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

4. Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

5. Wedding Week, Day #5 - Customize Your Ceremony However You Want

6. Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

7. Wedding Week, Day #7 - Food and Drink Advice

8. Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

And here are all the nuggets of advice!

The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Three Years in the Making

Happy Third Anniversary, Everyone!

In something somewhat out of character for this blog, we're celebrating Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat!

Four years ago this week, my wife and I were in the throes of wedding joy (and stress). Since that time, as we’ve read and heard about weddings being planned or happening, both of us have from time to time talked about writing a wedding advice column - because we both think our wedding rocked, and it rocked for a lot less money than many other people pay for far crappier weddings. As we prepared to celebrate our third anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to share some hard won wisdom. As an added bonus, the whole series is illustrated with actual pictures from our wedding, for those of you who are curious as to what it/we/our accessories looked like.

Before I start this series, my wife requests that she be given a disclaimer. She’s more tactful than I am, and although she generally supports my assertions in this series, she would probably not say things the same way I’ll state them. She would also say something to the effect of, “just because something was right for us doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.” So, there, she is indemnified. I also recognize that not all of these pieces of advice will hold for absolutely everyone, but we think that if most people were to abide by them, everyone (bride and groom included) would have a lot more fun at weddings and would waste a lot less money on them. But, my sincerest apologies in advance, if any of our advice offends anyone out there.

So, we'll spend the next hour or so sharing my/our advice on how to have an awesome wedding that won't break the bank. (Feel free to donate a portion of the money you save to support this site, via PayPal or the Google Checkout button on the right ;) ). First, we'll start with a critical guiding principle that everyone getting married should follow (and perhaps have temporary-tattooed on their foreheads), and then we’ll dive into the details. Below is what will perhaps be my most controversial piece of advice!

THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

See all these people? Your wedding is about all of them, too - it's not just about you. (These are Grant's family members who made it to the wedding.)

This will be hard for some people to swallow, but our first and most important Wedding Week lesson here at The Angry Bureaucrat is that your wedding isn't actually all about you ("you" singular or "the two of you"). If you approach your wedding in this way, you're already setting yourself up for disaster and/or disappointment. Our experience was that the most fun we had planning our wedding was when we were coming up with fun, creative ways for it to be a community-wide celebration of our joy, love, and union - and that we fought the most when we focused too much on us, on doing things this way or that, or otherwise being caught up in the details.

The whole "fairytale wedding," "princess for a day" bullsh*t was made up by the cynical princess wedding industry to make you feel entitled to everything and to separate you from your money. The truth is that, unless you're eloping, your wedding is bringing together a community of people who love you and care about you - friends and family, whether a few or a few hundred - in order to celebrate your joy, love, and union. You wouldn't be who you are without all of these people; that's why they're at your wedding. When planning your wedding and all the celebrations that surround it, you will have more fun (and everyone else will be happier) if you take into account their need and desire to celebrate with you, instead of focusing solely on your own selfish needs and desires. Much of the rest of these posts will be specific examples of how to implement the guiding principle of "it's not all about you."

(Note: Based on a dinner conversation I had after I wrote the first draft of this post, I want to add that, of course, your wedding should and will fulfill your need to celebrate in the way you want as well. The point of this post is not to say that you should work to please everyone else above and beyond yourselves - that's certainly not the case. Nonetheless, this post is a strong recommendation to take the needs and wants of the people you love and care about into account when planning your wedding. I assume that your needs will be well-represented in your wedding - my experience has been that most couples don't need much help asserting their own wishes in their wedding planning. But, you and everyone around you will be much happier if you take into account the needs, wants, and feelings of your community as you plan your wedding - and this is something that I think people often lose, forget about, or are even told is wrong when planning a wedding.)

Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

What's more important to you in your wedding? You should decide up-front - it will make decisions easier later.

Before you do anything else, decide how much money you have to spend, and what's most important to you in the wedding - what you're willing to spend your money on is the best indication of what's really important to you in your wedding. For us, the most important thing was throwing a fantastic, huge dinner and party for all of our family, close friends, and out-of-town guests, so that's what we spent a plurality of our money on. The least important thing was probably the clothes that we and our attendants wore - Ali's wedding dress was a dress she already owned (!), the bridesmaids' dresses were reasonable, and I didn't make my attendants rent/buy tuxes - they just wore dark suits they already owned, and we bought them different but matching ties as part of the attendant thank-you package.

You should know whether your flowers are more important than your cake, or your music more important than renting a car to drive you to the reception (we skipped this and just walked to our reception), and so on - you'll be making tradeoffs as you plan your wedding, and it's important to know what's most important to both of you.

In addition, when setting a budget and prioritizing what's important to you, keep the budgets of your attendants in mind - for example, if your attendants are a bunch of students or underemployed writers, expecting for them to attend a shower or bachelor's/bachelorette's party at a resort in Cabo is probably going to cause some ill will. A recent (positive) trend is letting bridesmaids pull out the trusted old LBD (little black dress) as a no-cost clothing alternative, which should match the tuxes/black suits of the groomsmen nicely. Just a suggestion. Remember - it's not all about you.

When doing your budget, keep in mind these people's budgets too - they hold the power to make your wedding awesome or to make it suck, so don't piss them off!

Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

One of many fantastic things that would not have happened if we'd had a destination wedding - because few (if any) of these wonderful people would have been able to come.

According to the latest statistics, 24% of you out there decide to have destination weddings. Our apologies to anyone who had/is having a destination wedding, but we think it was/is a bad idea. Personally, I don't think that "do not have a destination wedding" should be advice - I think it should be a rule.

Destination weddings embody the epitome of the "it's all about me" mentality. Think about it - you're essentially forcing your friends and family to take extra time off work and take a vacation to somewhere not of their own choosing while you're the center of attention for the whole vacation. It's so preposterous that I'm surprised this trend ever got started in the first place.

In addition to not being very considerate of the (probably relatively few) friends and family who will be able to afford to attend a destination wedding, you are (unless you run in fabulously wealthy circles) probably cutting most of your friends and family out of celebrating your wedding with you - and remember that they want to celebrate with you; they just don't want to celebrate completely on your terms.

Personally, we have only attended one destination wedding (at a picturesque lake somewhere in Europe), and honestly, we only attended because we just happened to be living in an adjoining country at the time - we never would have come if we'd had to travel from the USA like the rest of the wedding party. The only people who could attend were a few family members and one friend - even the parents of the bride couldn't attend!

By contrast, we held our wedding in our hometown, and we were able to host a gigantic party for 80 of our family members and closest friends - all for far less than what the airfare alone would cost for a destination wedding.

From our (limited) experience, in addition to being a significant time and financial burden on the few people who can attend and shutting out most of your friends and family from coming, having a destination wedding adds even more stress to the engaged couple. After all, you're adding vacation stress (travel and logistics in an unfamiliar place; not knowing the language; dealing with strange food; dealing with strange hairdressers and tailors in a foreign language; etc.) to the normal wedding stress - not a good combination. And unless you're going somewhere so remote that your wedding party is the only group around, everyone else at your destination wedding location will be conspicuously gawking at the bizarre spectacle unfolding before them - I am remembering a town full of Europeans who watched this American girl run around their tiny town in street clothes and a veil, and then in a wedding dress, for an entire day - they were utterly perplexed, and they did not try to hide their confusion.

Please please please, save everyone time, nerves, and money - don't have a destination wedding. Hold your wedding in one of your hometowns (even if you rarely go there anymore, like us), or if you really can't stand either of your hometowns, in an easily accessible, neutral third location, preferably somewhere about halfway between where your respective families live. Trust me - you'll thank me.

I'm guessing at least 24% of you vehemently disagree with this post; feel free to explain in the comments why a destination wedding was the only thing that made sense for you. And please go into a little more depth than "it was the only way to limit the number of guests" - while that may be true, I hope that's not all there is to it, since it's easy enough to limit guest numbers in other ways. (My new favorite way of limiting the number of guests is to hold the wedding on a random day, like a Tuesday.)

Not surprisingly, this post has generated a lot of (sometimes spirited) back-and-forth ever since it was posted last year - if you'd rather jump into that conversation than commenting on this post, head over to the original post to share your thoughts.

Wedding Week, Day #5 - Write Your Own Ceremony, Pretty Much from Scratch

Our rings, and our wedding ceremony (which we wrote ourselves).

Whether you get married in a church/synagogue/ashram/temple/etc., at a courthouse, outside, or at city hall, we think it's critical that you write your own ceremony - pretty much from scratch. And customize it however you want! It's hard work - we spent several weeks combing the web and our favorite books for what we wanted to include, picking the music, rearranging the order - and after we'd finished, we realized that we'd changed the Christian ceremony that we'd picked as our starting point into a largely Jewish ceremony. Go figure.

We also had a lot of fun talking about what we wanted in the ceremony and why - it helped us learn more about each other and grow together as a couple. Customizing the ceremony (especially writing our own vows) also gave us an understanding of what was most important to each of us as we began a life together. We also took out outdated parts of the ceremony, such as "who gives this bride away" and "speak now or forever hold your peace" - if these things are in your wedding ceremony, I'll think that you didn't work on it very hard. (Or, I suppose you could carefully consider the options and decide that you really do want to give someone the opportunity to protest your union in front of all your friends and family - but I'd find allowing that rather odd.)

We also involved our community a good deal in the ceremony itself - my parents sang a duet; Ali's parents gave us a blessing; a family friend played the trumpet; our attendants did readings; and we sang some songs/hymns (upbeat ones!). We tried to give our community as much opportunity to be involved and celebrate with us as possible (or as much opportunity as they wanted, anyway). Your community is bursting with talent, and you should take advantage of that by inviting them to participate in your ceremony and celebrations! Some folks might decline, but most people will jump at the opportunity to play a special role in your special day.

Perhaps more so than with any other part of the wedding, you only get out of your wedding ceremony as much as you put into it - though it's true that you end up just as married all the same. However, if you overlook this part of the wedding and don't customize it to fit you as a couple, you're missing a serious opportunity to get to know your future spouse more deeply, in a way that is difficult to replicate in a different setting, and you're missing an opportunity to knit your community together more tightly. So, get to work!

Below, we'll talk even more about getting your community involved in your wedding, in ways that will save you serious time, stress, and money and will get them excited to participate in your celebration - a major win-win-win-win!

Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

De-professionalizing as much of your wedding as possible accomplishes three major goals - it gets your community much more involved in the planning and execution of your wedding celebration; it can take a lot of responsibility off your shoulders (if you let it); and it will save you a TON of money.

You can imagine how lovely the uncensored version of this
invitation looked - and the bride did it herself.

De-professionalizing as much as possible was one of the reasons why we were able to have a fantastic wedding and throw three (3!) separate parties celebrating our marriage for about 1/3 the cost of just the average US wedding ceremony and reception.

Part of de-professionalizing is decentralizing. We gave away entire swaths of our wedding to other people to plan and execute with minimal attention from us, so we could focus on what was most important to us - having a great time with our family and friends. This also gave our family a good excuse to come a couple days early, so we got to spend more time with everyone.

We de-professionalized (and decentralized) our wedding in many, many ways:
  1. We didn't have a professional wedding planner. We were our wedding planners. Everyone should do this - it's a bit of work, yes, but it will save you a ton of money, and you'll have a much better chance to put together the wedding that you want to have.
  2. Ali did our invitations (see above), with a little spare time and a couple of free fonts we liked. You can do this, or you have a friend who knows enough PhotoShop or InDesign to do this in exchange for dinner or a bottle of wine. You then get them printed yourself and have beautiful invitations at a fraction of the cost of paying a professional to do it all.
  3. Ali also did the program for our ceremony.
  4. Ali's mom planned and catered the rehearsal dinner.
  5. My mom planned and (with the help of her female relatives) executed most of the post-ceremony reception.
  6. My mom baked the bride's cake.
  7. One of Ali's best friends decorated the bride's cake.
  8. A family friend baked and decorated the groom's cake.
  9. A family friend decorated the reception space.
  10. A former high school teacher/mentor did the flowers.
  11. Church friends provided the music.
All of these were done by non-professionals for our wedding. You know people who can do stuff like this too.

I'm probably missing a few, but you get the idea. Granted, we paid some money towards some of the things on the above list, but they cost us far less than if we had paid professionals to do everything for us. As an added bonus, our whole community was involved in and excited about our wedding, and they were (or at least acted like they were!) happy and glad to help us out and be involved. We couldn't have done it without them, and we wouldn't have had nearly as much fun without their contributions.

Your community has an enormous pool of talent you can tap, and they have friends and family who are also talented - just ask them to contribute their talents to help you celebrate your wedding. Of course, I expect you'll give them general boundaries, parameters, guidelines, etc. - but within those boundaries, leave them the creative license (remember: it's not all about you) to see what they come up with to help celebrate your union.

Many people think it’ll just be easier to hire someone, but that's often simply wrong. That person you hire has to be directed (by you) and is only going to do exactly what you are able to direct them to do (how much do you know about flower arrangements or cake decorating?). Furthermore, they don’t care about you personally - it’s their job, so why would/should they go the extra mile for you? Your community cares, and their contribution will make the day more meaningful and less about money.

Now, we'll delve into the details of a part of the wedding that is often misguided - food and drinks.

Wedding Week, Day #7 - Food and Drink Advice

If this had been slathered with fondant, I would have refused to eat it.

Advice #1: Do Not Have Fondant Icing on Your Wedding Cake

Although it looks good, fondant (Wikipedia calls it an "icing-like substance," not icing) tastes like a mixture of ground-up cardboard and sweetened silly putty. If you absolutely have to have a fondant cake because of the way it looks, make it one that no one actually has to eat, and have sheet cakes with better-tasting (real) icing for people to eat. Seriously - no one wants to eat a fondant cake. No one. Fondant - not even once.

Advice #2: If Serving a Meal, Serve a Real Meal

One consistent complaint I've had about several weddings I've attended (and that I've seen repeated ad nauseam online) is that the food served at weddings is often sub-par catered fare. Here's how we avoided that.

We ended up having 3 large, semi-public, semi-organized parties to celebrate our marriage: 1) the rehearsal dinner (open to family, wedding party, and out-of-town guests, as usual), 2) the reception at the church right after the ceremony (open to everyone), and 3) a dinner and party at a local restaurant for family, close friends, and out-of-town guests a couple of hours after the reception at the church.

Since we had a lot of friends coming from far away to our little Southern town for this wedding, they wanted to have a taste of the South while they were visiting. We weren't terribly excited by this - but our wedding wasn't all about us. So, Ali's mom organized a bunch of proper Southern ladies to whip up a huge, traditional, home-cooked Southern feast for the rehearsal dinner. The food was a smörgåsbord of home-cooked deliciousness at almost no cost.

My mom (with the rest of the female members of her family) catered the reception right after the ceremony. This was probably the most traditional food of the weekend, as it was somewhat standard reception fare, but they did a great job - and people were walking around and interacting with each other and us, rather than being trapped at a table trying to cut warmed-over chicken Kiev with a butter knife and making small talk with people they don't know very well.

As an added bonus, we gave our mothers near-free reign to organize the above parties as they wanted, so they got to put their touch on the weekend, and we had a lot of responsibility lifted off our shoulders - a serious win-win!

With our mothers taking care of those two parties, we focused most of our attention on the party we cared about most - the semi-formal sit-down dinner and party that went from about 6PM until well past midnight. To put together an awesome event at a reasonable cost, we contacted a local restaurant (thanks again, Matt!) and promised them that we would spend at least a certain minimum amount on food and drinks if they would close the restaurant to everyone but us. It was a smallish restaurant, so our ~80 people just about filled it to capacity.

Part of our mostly pre-decorated dinner/party venue.

This was fantastic on several levels - we got to pick a fun, dynamic venue that needed almost no additional decorations, instead of having to (pay to) decorate a relatively sterile event hall. We didn't have to rent anything for the dinner - not the venue, silverware, tables, chairs, glasses, napkins, etc. - all the stuff that adds up to serious cash if you're having an event catered in an event hall. All we paid for was the food and drink. We worked with the chef beforehand to come up with menu options that were personally meaningful to us and that everyone would like. Everything was cooked to order and delicious. And speaking of food, this brings us to:

Advice #3: Have Plenty of Alcohol

Pay for everyone's food, and have plenty amount of alcohol available (unless there are strict religious reasons not to) - your guests are all there to celebrate with you; they're giving you gifts; you're only going to do this once (you hope); and good food and alcohol really aren't that expensive. If you really can't afford to do this, then just don't serve dinner or make alcohol available - go with hors d'oeuvres alone.

You may have to look around a bit to find the right restaurant to host this kind of event (and that will only charge you for food and drinks). In this economy, however, you should be able to find a restaurant that will do this for you (city-dwellers, you may have to look at smaller restaurants out in the 'burbs) - and you'll have a much better time (and much better food) at much lower cost if you arrange a dinner and party in this way.

Aside from the ceremony, our dinner and party was the most important (and most fun) part of the whole weekend - everyone had a fantastic time, and it didn't break our bank, even though it was the most expensive part of our wedding. But for us, celebrating with our family and friends was the most important part of our wedding - so that's where we put a plurality of our money.

Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

When things go wrong, take it in stride ...

I wish I knew where I got this piece of advice, so I could credit them, but I just can't remember.

Anyway - with weddings, you plan the best you can and set up everything to run as smoothly as possible. However, on the wedding day, don't sweat things that go wrong - because things will go wrong. Usually just some small things, occasionally a big thing, but at that point, there's nothing you can do, so don't worry about it. If you decide beforehand that you've done everything you can and that you're just going to let the day play out as it plays out while enjoying and savoring every moment, you (and everyone around you) will have a much better time than if you freak out because:
  • your ring-bearer refuses to walk down the aisle;
  • the order of events in the reception gets messed up;
  • your bride gets a sinus infection and has to be hopped up on steroids for the big day;
  • a drunk cousin "borrows" (read: steals) someone's phone;
  • or one (or more) of a billion other things goes wrong.
(Note: All of those things actually happened at our wedding. Feel free to share your own not-to-be-sweated horror stories in the comments.)

You did your best, and if you followed the advice from The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week, everyone else will be having a blast. Besides which, you need some funny mishap stories from your wedding right? So just relax, laugh, and have the best day of your life too. And, if you’ve followed the advice in this series, you'll have done it all for far less cash than the average American.

(I also wanted to mention that most of the photos featured this week were taken by Lindsay Gross - if you have professional photography needs in Middle or Eastern TN, we highly recommend her!)

That's it for Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat - I hope you've enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them. No matter what, you're going to enjoy and cherish your wedding day, and I hope my reflections on my own wedding help you have an even more awesome wedding than you were going to have.

... and everything will be awesome!

Happy 4th Anniversary (a little late), My Dear!

P.S. I'm sorry for this, but I felt the need to add a small legal disclaimer - I retain all rights to all the photos and text in this post. No one is allowed to use the photos or text without my written permission.